As the New Year approaches, we begin to look back at the year that has passed and consider all that we experienced. We think about our New Year’s resolutions and set our intentions for the year to come. Looking at the past, we often want certain things to be different or better in the New Year and we strategize to change our lives by doing something differently. This year, try adding to your resolutions for 2013, the practice of letting go. There is so much to be gained from learning to let go. How can I gain something from letting something go, you may ask? Read on and you will see that the rewards of letting go can be life changing.
There is so much that we hold onto in our lives that cause us pain and suffering. We cling to our desires and our expectations, and when those desires are not satisfied, and those expectations are not met, we suffer. We want things to be a certain way, and when life does not unfold as we had hoped, we are sad, angry, disappointed or depressed. We often resist what is actually happening because it is not what we want to be happening, and we suffer through it.
We can eliminate so much of our negative emotions and experience greater joy in our lives, if we practice the art of letting go. By analogy, we can look at our own bodies. We hold a tremendous amount of tension in our bodies, often in our necks, backs, and shoulders. Many of us aren’t even aware we are physically tense until we begin to feel severe aches and pains in our bodies. Yet, often unknowingly we are clenching our muscles in response to stress. Once our attention is drawn to those areas, we recognize the tension. After becoming aware of where we are holding this tension, we can work on releasing it. By letting go of our tension, we can literally move through life with greater ease and less pain. In much the same way, we cling emotionally to so much that causes us great pain. It is the art of letting go that can bring us tremendous relief and offer us the opportunity to move through life with greater ease.
So what do we need to let go of? This is often the most challenging part of this exercise because we need to look deep within ourselves to understand what we are truly experiencing. Here are a few of the big things we can look at in our own lives and ask ourselves, “How is this serving me?” If it is not serving you in any positive way, then let it go.
Letting go of Expectations
A common source of emotional pain and suffering occurs when our expectations are not met. We may feel great disappointment, sadness or anger when colleagues, friends or relatives do not act in a way that we had hoped they would act. Perhaps we are not getting the support that we need from someone. Or, we do not have the kind of relationship that we had hoped for. Or, we simply think someone in our lives is a very difficult or challenging person (we may use other words to describe that person, but I will stick with these). It is important to remember that this is not about who is right and who is wrong. There is no judgment in this exercise. The goal is to recognize that what we are getting (or not getting) from someone is not what we want. Since we cannot force others to act in a way that meets our expectations, the best path to alleviate this emotional pain is by simply letting go of those expectations, and accepting what is. Once we let go of our expectations, it is remarkable how a relationship can change. By releasing the grip of our attachments to our expectations, we open ourselves up to new possibilities for connection.
We place some of our greatest expectations on ourselves. In our culture, we strive for perfection in the way we look, in our lifestyles, in our own behavior and in our children. We set incredibly high standards and feel disappointment when we fail to meet those lofty goals. Yet, as Anna Quindlen so beautifully said, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work on becoming yourself."
As parents, we also need to take a close look at the expectations we set for our children. Are they realistic? Are we ignoring our children’s needs and their individuality when we place certain expectations on them? Sometimes we need to let those expectations go in order to let our children flourish and grow on their own terms and in their own way, rather than imposing on them our own desires and wishes for who we want them to be. Once we learn to look at them through an unfiltered lens, void of the distortion of our own expectations, we may be better able to see the incredible people that they are.
Letting Go and the Art of Forgiveness
The ability to forgive is one of the greatest acts of letting go. Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Clinging to unhealthy emotions, like resentment, is a self-destructive behavior that does not serve you. On the contrary, clinging to resentment will only cause you tremendous pain and suffering. It is extremely difficult to forgive others when they have wronged you or someone you love, but holding on to deep resentment or hatred will do nothing to your “enemy” but will do great harm to you. Can you identify a person who you are unable to forgive? Can you think of an event that continues to trigger negative emotions? How is that serving you? How would it feel to simply let that go?
The BIG One - Letting go of Fear
Most stress and anxiety is deeply rooted in fear. We may not always realize this, but if we dig deep enough, we will find fear at the base of almost all stress and anxiety. We are afraid of being alone. We are afraid of not being loved. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid that our children will fail. Our ultimate fear, of course, is the fear of death. These fears cause us sleepless nights, stressful days, and lots of running around trying to prevent these things from happening.
Again, we must ask ourselves, “How is this serving me?” Will it prevent me from being alone? Will it help me to be loved? Will it prevent me or my children from experiencing failure? And, the big question, will fear prevent me from dying? We all know the answers to these questions, and yet, we continue to live with stress and anxiety that stems from our fears.
It is important to remember that fear is a perfectly normal feeling. However, when fear causes great stress and anxiety in our daily lives, which leads to sleepless nights and our inability to experience happiness in our days, then it is important to practice the art of letting go.
I experienced a profound moment of letting go in my early twenties on an airplane at 10,000 feet above the earth. I was traveling for work when the airplane began to bounce through the air as we experienced quite a bit of turbulence. I panicked. I clenched the armrests, and began to envision the plane plummeting downward. I was petrified, alone, fearing the worst possible outcome. And then it happened. I recognized that there was absolutely nothing that I could do to help the airplane land safely. I was aware that my fear was causing my heart to race, my breathing to speed up, and my hands to feel numb as I continued to envision my impending doom. Yet, I also recognized that my fear was not serving me. I was suffering. So, I made the conscious choice to let go. In some ways I opened my heart to what was happening and accepted it as it was. I took a deep breath, picked up my magazine, assured myself that it would be all right and I began to read, choosing very specifically not to allow my thoughts to be consumed by fear.
Letting go can be an extremely difficult thing to do. However, by releasing the strong grip of fear, resentment or expectations, we can experience tremendous freedom and open ourselves up to new possibilities. We have the incredible power to let go. By letting go, we can free ourselves to experience life with much greater ease and much less pain. So, this New Years Eve, I invite you to consider the possibility of letting go of those things in your life that are not serving you. In doing so, you will find greater peace and ease in the year to come.